I hate my dog.
Alright, that’s not exactly fair. I don’t “hate” her. But I certainly don’t love her either. And that’s ok because we’ve only known each other for a few weeks. That is something I’ve learned since getting my first dog. People think we are supposed to love them right away. That’s because they seem to love us right away. Seem to.
My wife, Crystal, says “she loves us.” which is ridiculous. I think the dog loves her. But I get that. I get why people fall in love with Crystal immediately. I did. But me? No, this dog does not love me. We are barely on speaking terms. “I can tell by the way she looks at you!” my wife says. But my wife has also watched this dog take a shit and said, “cute.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
I Hate My Dog: Confessions of a First-Time Dog Owner
I Have Never Owned a Dog
I have never owned a dog. That was never an option in my house growing up for a number of reasons but the primary one being my parents didn’t want to own a dog. Fair point, Mom and Dad. I totally get it. That’s a good enough answer on its own which makes you wonder why my dad lied about having a cat allergy all these years.
As if “because I said so” wasn’t enough of an excuse, I also had a crippling fear of dogs. I have never trusted them. Their sudden movements and loud barks frighten me. This all stems back to a traumatic experience as a child involving snarling and gnashing of teeth, but in reality, comes down to… a dog jumped on me once.
As terrified as I was of dogs, I still wanted one desperately. A friend of mine had two and I persuaded my parents to have his family over to dinner hoping they would convince my parents for me. I had an image in my head out of a Norman Rockwell painting of me walking down the street with my golden retriever (no leash), overalls with one strap undone, playing fetch with a chewed up old baseball. Ol’ Spot and me against the World. I think there’s something deep inside us that wants to connect with animals and no animal on earth wants to connect with humans more than dogs. It is a bond we have cultivated for generations, and it is so strong that I was willing to get over my fears just to feel it.
A quarter of a century later, a lot has changed. I’m a married man, no longer afraid of (most) dogs. And over the course of the past few years, my wife and I have caught the dog fever. We’d spend hours sending each other pictures of dogs in shelters, and “ooo” and “awww” over doggie videos and gifs. We’d talked about it and we agreed that we wanted to get one in the future. And one day the future was here. We even moved into a bigger apartment because the building accepted dogs. We were ready.
Nobody talks about the adoption process. Oh sure, dog owner’s swear by it. “You have to adopt!” they say. And they’re right. Any google search will show you that shelters are absolutely overflowing with dogs in need of their “forever home.” It is clearly morally right to save a dog rather than pay a breeder, but I’ll tell ya, they don’t make it easy.
My wife and I used petfinder.com and adoptapet.com with zero success. At a volunteer’s suggestion, we only applied for one dog at a time and we never heard back from most of our applications. It was like being on Tinder. Weeks would go by without even a confirmation that our application had been received. And when we did receive a call back, it was to tell us that the dog in question had been adopted already. At one point, we had a skype check-in (a mandatory prerequisite to an in-home check-in) with a volunteer named Mary so she could tell us how we should remodel our apartment to make it more dog-friendly. We were given the go-ahead, only to be rejected by the shelter, and we had to start the process all over again.
You live a thousand lives adopting. You scroll past dozens of needy dogs. Entire lives can be ended just by the volunteer posting a bad picture. Maybe this dog isn’t photogenic. Maybe the dog was sneezing or distracted when the picture was taken. Maybe they posted it on its side, or even upside down. I’ve passed over dogs for less. And God help you if there’s only one picture. Dogs who look happy in two pictures must be happy 24/7. Meanwhile, a dog with only one picture probably spends every other waking moment frothing at the mouth, bloodthirsty.
And even when you click on a dog, and you love him or her, there’s still the matter of applying. Of being approved. You imagine your life with this animal you’ve never met. You picture where they’ll want to sleep. What tricks you’ll teach them first. What sort of treats they’ll like and what games they’ll like to play. All for it to come crashing down when the shelter realizes for the fifth time that you live in a New York apartment and do not have a backyard. You begin to feel like Sisyphus pushing a dog-shaped boulder up a hill.
So finally, we just said screw it. Let’s stop waiting to be told we can meet a dog and go meet some dogs! We drove to the closest shelter, the Yonkers Animal Shelter on Ridge Hill Blvd (coincidence?), and that’s where we found her.
Buttercup is a two-year-old female. She is about two feet tall and weighs approximately thirty pounds. She is a mix of mixes; the size of a bulldog, the face of a pitbull, the ears of a Frenchie. She was secluded in her own glass box like Hannibal Lecter. A little gremlin thing. She most closely resembles Woola from John Carter of Mars.
We took her out back to spend some time with her and she lunged for the door, scraping and throwing herself forward, choking herself to death. “We don’t let them outside much so she’s really excited,” said the attendant.
She wheezed but didn’t bark. “She doesn’t ever really bark. She’s a good girl” said the attendant. For the record, she has since learned how to bark perfectly well. Our current theory is that before she had a harness, she had a normal leash and stupidly choked herself.
I promised myself I would be discerning, but as soon as she rolled onto her back for a belly rub… that was pretty much that.
What to Expect
Before I go on, I want to say that I was prepared for everything that happened next. I watched videos on dog training, I read articles on dog ownership. I had done my homework.
Owning a dog is about taking on responsibility in exchange for unconditional love. Why else would you do it? Why would you pick up an animal’s poop thousands of times? It’s because their tail wags and they cry when they see you. Their joy at your presence is worth a fortune. It also costs a fortune. Taking on responsibility means that you’re going to take some hits. And the first hit is to your bank account. The food, the bowls, the toys, the bed, they all need to be purchased. There are no bank accounts in Norman Rockwell paintings.
The second hit is to your senses. Immediately after bringing her home, she had completely dominated her environment in terms of smell. Whether it was her or something going through her, you knew a dog lived here. And that’s just one sense. Dogs change everything about your living conditions. Having a dog in your house means everything is coated in drool. Or at least you hope its drool. Because she also peed numerous times all over the apartment, several times on the rug alone. Your life has now become that moment when your warm sock steps in a puddle, only this time it isn’t water.
But the biggest hit is to your schedule. That peeing thing now becomes the clock by which you live your life. The world runs on Greenwich Mean Time, I run on gremlin pee time. Your life used to involve sleeping in on Saturdays. Not anymore. She’s been in her kennel for six hours and her bladder is smaller than yours, so up you get at 6 a.m. You used to go to the movies after work. Nope. You have to at least take the Little Princess on a short walk and then have conversations about whether or not you’re Hitler for cooping her up. You used to be able to do things for more than three hours at a time. “No, I can’t. I have the dog.” becomes a regular sentence. At the time that I’m writing this, I’ve turned down a family reunion because “I have the dog.”
The last hit is a little smaller than the rest, but it is the most important one… the final hit is to your expectations. Buttercup is not good with other dogs. We don’t know the story, whether she was abused, bullied, or just never introduced to dogs but Buttercup can not stand them. So your dreams of taking her to the dog park and watching her make friends go up in smoke in favor of a little extra burden. Buttercup is not the dog I was expecting when I imagined owning a dog. She’s a weird-looking, weird-sounding, ill-behaved weirdo of a dog. When I walk her around, I feel like I’m walking with Stitch.
On the eve of adopting Buttercup, I said to my wife, “You see people walking down the street with a dog and you think ‘What a good dog?’ That’s going to be us! People are going to say that about us!” What a monkey’s paw that turned out to be.
But here’s the thing…
I was prepared for all this. I knew it would cost money. I’ve visited friends who owned dogs. I knew the smell. I knew there would be hair everywhere, that I’d have to wake up in the middle of the night, that she would drool on the floor, and that she’d never thank me. I knew all that.
Here’s the truth…
It’s Not You. It’s Me.
It’s me. Ok, it’s a little bit the dog. She’s mean to other dogs, snarls at strangers, doesn’t come when called, and pees in protest. She’s gruff and opinionated. She doesn’t bark or yip, but she makes a throaty Gollum sound. She bites a lot and she’s crazy ticklish. She is food motivated, but snarky as hell and she won’t do a trick unless you promise to feed her.
I look at Buttercup and I’m mad that she’s not what I wanted right off the bat. I’m mad that she has her own interests. That sometimes our interests don’t synch up. Why doesn’t she do exactly what I want to do every minute that I want it?
I’m not mad at her for being a dog. I’m mad at myself for being mad. I’m mad for wanting to bring a life into my home and treating it like a toy. I’m mad at myself for giving her too much responsibility and then I’m mad at her when she fails.
My expectations for her were never realistic. For every Norman Rockwell painting of a boy walking next to his well-trained dog, he probably painted a dozen more where the dog ate the kid, but they probably didn’t sell.
I think I got caught up in Dog Culture. If you only based your feelings on dogs on the way the media portrays them, you’d think getting a dog turns your life into an L.L. Bean catalog. You’d suddenly become interested in hiking and driving a Range Rover.
But it doesn’t. She doesn’t change the circumstances of my life in any profound way.
I remember learning to draw on the computer and thinking “this is it! Now I’ll be able to make great art!” No. A computer is just a tool. That’s how I’ve come to think of Buttercup. Buttercup wasn’t a letter to Hogwarts. Adventures and contentment aren’t going to come to my doorstep just because I got a dog.
We get the dog we deserve.
Buttercup is not a very nice dog, but living with me is no picnic. She’s been living here for a while now and we’re getting a hang of things. She still has some accidents and we have a long way to go with her training, but she does this little dance when I feed her and that’s just the cutest.